A pre-code directed by W. S. Van Dyke that’s set in Cuba with “The Peanut Vendor” sung throughout – how could I resist?
Terry Burke (played by famous baritone, Lawrence Tibbett) is a well-to-do young man who joins the marines on a whim and ends up in Cuba with his buddies – Romance (played by Ernest Torrence) and O. O. Jones (Jimmy Durante). Burke is engaged to Crystal (Karen Morley), a socialite who turns out to be made of good moral stock and impressive loyalty, but it is Nenita, a Havana peanut vendor who steals Terry’s heart. Nenita is played by Lupe Velez, who lights up the screen in this noisy, but entertaining romp.
It’s such fun watching these players at play that the uninspired story hardly matters. Terry Burke and Nenita have a love affair in Havana before War breaks out forcing Terry and his buddies to leave Cuba. The couple “lives together” in unmarried, pre-code style singing at every opportunity – living life and enjoying nights of romance under the tropic moon…
Once the Marine leaves the island ten years go by in flash, however, and the couple loses touch. Terry is hurt during the war and we soon see he returns to life as usual in U.S. upper crust circles with the understanding Crystal by his side. But Terry has never forgotten Nenita and his Cuban adventure. While in a New York City nightclub one night he hears a singer performing “El Manicero” (Spanish for “The Peanut Vendor”), which inspires him to return to Cuba to search for his lost love. He does so only to learn Nenita has died finding instead her daughter who she named Terry. Ever the stand-up guy Terry does right by them all in the end concluding a so-so story, but entertaining movie.
It’s a pleasure to listen to Lawrence Tibbett sing throughout THE CUBAN LOVE SONG, with favorites being the aforementioned “The Peanut Vendor,” which he learns in the movie from Velez as Nenita who explains the song’s origins to him. Another favorite is the film’s title song, “Cuban Love Song,” which is a beautiful, romantic melody. It’s also a pleasure to bask in Velez’ energy, which is substantial. The film’s pre-code-y-ness, as I call it is also a treat – the relaxed sexual mores and attitudes that make these films standouts compared to later, more conservative fare.
THE CUBAN LOVE SONG doesn’t fare well if compared to the higher ranked and/or more popular pre-code films starring perennial favorites Norma Shearer or Barbara Stanwyck to name just two, but I still recommend you take a look at it if the chance arises. Aside from the music some of the dialogue is funny and director W. S. Van Dyke always manages entertaining scenes.
While familiar with Lawrence Tibbett’s recordings and radio performances, I believe this is the first film I’ve ever seen of his and I really enjoyed his acting. Tibbett’s chemistry with and contrast to Velez both on-screen and in relation to the cultural differences depicted in the story work well. In my quest to become more familiar with pre-code films this one serves educational on several fronts so I’m happy I chose it as the first of two entries I’m submitting to the Pre-Code Blogathon hosted by Pre-Code.Com and Shadows and Satin. And I must extend a huge thanks to Karen of Shadows and Satin for ensuring I get a copy of THE CUBAN LOVE SONG to view for this post. Be sure to visit the host sites!
Without getting into specifics about the tragedy that ended Lupe Velez’ life, I’d like to at least mention the tragedy that was her career. Relegated to film roles in which she played only stereotypical Spanish-speaking women with super heavy accents and oft silly dialogue, it’s still impressive to consider how busy a career Velez had in the early 1930s. The same year Lupe did THE CUBAN LOVE SONG, she also made the disturbing (and insulting) KONGO directed by William J. Cowen and co-starring Walter Huston and Lloyd Corrigan’s THE BROKEN WING, which I’ve yet to see. She also appeared in concurrent Spanish-language versions of movies most of which were produced by Universal Studios. It takes a simple film such as THE CUBAN LOVE SONG to remind us of what a waste all of that was. While we should be thankful we have her on film to enjoy at all, one can’t help but wonder what would have been if she’d been offered more substantial work.
As a native of Cuba I’d be remiss not to mention how THE CUBAN LOVE SONG, as did many of the films produced at the time, makes no attempt at authenticity or consistency regarding the culture depicted in the movie. I’d discussed this in some detail in a post I did a while back, Antonio Moreno and The Story of Spanish-language Hollywood. In a nutshell Hollywood alienated the exact audience it tried to attract with its Spanish-version films by not bothering with authenticity. THE CUBAN LOVE SONG suffers from the same malady in that the Cubans depicted in the movie have Mexican accents and use typical Mexican idioms throughout. While the fact doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the movie, it’s worth a mention because it can be distracting.
Have never seen Cuban Love Song but I have see Lawrence Tibbett in New Moon with Grace Moore. I love his singing voice but didn’t rate him as an actor.
Thanks for all the interesting information about recordings of Peanut Vendor and the video links.
I hope you enjoy at least one version of the song. Tibbett wouldn’t rank as an actor against the biggies, but he certainly works in this. I’d say he’d have done quite well in any number of musicals, actually. I checked and it looks like he only appeared in a handful of movies in any case so we haven’t much to go by.
I love the Havana Casino Orchestra version. Before this, I think I had only ever heard Judy Garland’s version in Star is Born.
Yes! Love that version too.
Loved your post, Aurora! I’ve never seen this film, but you have made me want to check it out — and eat some peanuts! Good stuff all around — I’m so glad you chose this. I’ve only seen Lupe Velez in one or two films, and was never overly impressed, but I look forward to this one. Thanks so much for this first-rate contribution to the blogathon!
Glad you liked this, Karen! If you do end up eating peanuts then be sure to play one of the million versions of the song for crissakes!!!
I’m listening to the 1930 “El Manisero” now, and it’s wonderful. Can you believe I’ve never heard this song before? Honestly, Aurora, your blog has enriched my classic movie (and song) horizons.
I love that you listened to that!! 😀 Really IS a great song, if a bit overused through the years. Thanks much, Ruth for your lovely comments.
Spending time with one of the world’s great baritones and one of the loveliest and, as you rightly point out, under-used ladies of the screen sounds like a perfect day. Peanuts!
Please don’t say “peanuts”.
Well done with plenty of trivia which I always enjoy catching up on.
Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂
I don’t think I’ve seen any of Lupe Velez’s films, I recently (and unfortunately) came across her whilst researching unexplained/mysterious actress deaths (don’t ask!). From the background reading she sounded like a talented, if under-used actress. I look forward to watching this and having a happier context for her life!
Fab post as always, me dear! This is a film I’ve never seen so I must correct that soon. I would enjoy getting to know Lupe Velez’s work better. mmmm… a peanut butter sandwich sounds so good right now…
I’m not much of a Velez fan, but I definitely want to check out this one after your review. I also want peanuts, too. Mmmm….